Mohamed Elshinawy, a 30-year-old Maryland resident originally from Egypt, has been charged with soliciting some $8,700 from Islamic State operatives and plotting a terrorist attack in the United States.
The New York Times reports Elshinawy’s arrest comes after a five-month FBI investigation, which “included tracking of his finances and online communications.” When FBI agents confronted him about his overseas financial transactions, Elshinawy first claimed it was money from his mother, then admitted he was getting the money from ISIS affiliates in Egypt, but claimed he was trying to “scam some money” from the terrorists, and even “told the F.B.I. that it should laud him for his work and give him a job in terrorist financing.”
Unfortunately for Elshinawy, the FBI does not award points for chutzpah, so they kept digging. They noted that he spent a great deal of the money he got from ISIS on communications equipment, with one law enforcement official saying he “showed a level of tradecraft that we haven’t seen in many other cases.” That is not the sort of compliment a person under investigation for terrorist activity wants to receive.
According to investigators, Elshinawy was in communication with a childhood Egyptian friend who has since fled to Syria to escape terrorism charges. The two were both ISIS supporters, with Elshinawy portraying himself as “a soldier of the state” whose “soul was over there with the jihadists,” saying that he smiled every time he saw a news account of the Islamic State’s murderous achievements. He also spoke of plans to relocate to Islamic State territory in Syria with his wife.
Elshinawy used his friend in Syria to establish contact with the ISIS operative who began wiring him money. Although prosecutors say he had not begun formulating a specific attack plan, he told his friend that he had “many targets” in mind.
Commenting on the Elshinawy case to the Baltimore Sun, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security director Michael Greenberger warned that ISIS apparently has “enough money to be able to set out a lot of lures, hoping that one lure will catch somebody who’s willing to engage in dangerous activity.”
The Sun quotes Elshinawy’s claim that his ISIS contact cited the attack on the Mohammed Art Exhibit in Garland, Texas as an example of the work they were looking to contract from jihadis in the U.S.
Prosecutors and analysts who spoke with the Sun also cited this case as further evidence of the Islamic State’s skill at using the Internet for recruiting purposes, and also the ability of extremists to tap into long-standing family connections and friendships. “Real-world relationships matter,” said Seamus Hughes of George Washington University. “You’re more likely to be engaged in this ideology if your friends, or your brother, or your sister are also interested.”